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The Iris

A flower with ancient origins, grown according to traditional methods

The flower

In May the Tuscan hills are coloured with soft hues

The Iris blooms in May, revealing extraordinary colours that brighten up the Tuscan country landscape. The type of Iris cultivated in the areas of Chianti and Pratomagno is most notably the Iris pallida, a precious specimen with pale violet petals and an extremely delicate fragrance.

The rhizome

Richness from the heart of the Iris

The richness of these flowers is found in the rhizome, from which, after cultivation and processing, a product for use in distillations is obtained. The Tuscan Iris Association exports processed and dried rhizomes around the word, in particular to Grasse in France, important centre for the production of high-end perfumes.

The plantation

Growers diligently plant the iris, as done in the past

Following centuries-old methods, starting in mid-September the planting of cuttings takes place. These are planted by hand between rows of olive trees, in high, hilly or mountainous areas, on terracing destined for a kind of companion crop. After planting, the Irises grow spontaneously, with the only precaution being to free them of invasive weeds, the greatest threat to their cultivation. 

The harvest

After three years the Iris plant is ready for processing

Harvesting takes place three years after planting, from mid-July to mid-September. Using mostly manual methods, the plant is removed from the ground and processed immediately, with the rhizomes being separated from the shoots, which will be used in the next phase of planting. These parts of the plant will be tightly packed and stored until October. The rhizome, on the other hand, is ready to be processed. 

The black rhizome

Once cleaned and cut, the unpeeled Iris is ready to be sold

The harvested iris rhizomes are processed, their leaves and roots removed; the following wash in wood or terra cotta containers eliminates any residual dirt. The clean rhizomes are cut into slices and left in the sun, to thoroughly dry them out and ready them for conserving in the storehouse. After 4-6 months, the trademark violet scent pervades the storage spaces and the product is ready for sale on the international market.  

The white rhizome

After harvesting, some rhizomes are completely peeled by hand

A portion of the cleaned rhizomes is peeled, a processed carried out entirely by hand with a sharp, curved knife. With the Irises peeled, their top-quality white rhizomes are used in making excellent products and often used as well in the making of spirits. The Irises obtained are left to dry in the sun on wicker matting or nets. The product is then firmly packed in the storehouse and after about 5 months can be put on the market. 

The Lily of Florence

The white iris, emblem of the city

The prestigious Iris has deep historical roots, so much so that even the City of Florence bears a symbol of this flower on its coat of arms. The Lily, emblem of Florence, is actually the white Iris typical of this region. The shape is, in fact, quite irregular, with stylised wings, and the colour was originally white on a red background. It adopted its current look in 1251, when the Guelfs decided to invert the colours to distinguish themselves from their adversaries, the Ghibellines, who, exiled from the city, continued to use the emblem as their own. 

Traces of art

From Van Gogh to today, the Iris as artist’s muse

The beauty of the Iris, its colours, fragrances, and surroundings, have long been a source of inspiration to artists, from international painters to those right here in Tuscany. Van Gogh dedicated one of his first works to the Iris, today housed in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Among the Impressionists, ever fond of this flower, Monet left us splendid paintings depicting the Iris and its hues; while the famous Japanese painter Hokusai created visions of Irises as inspiration for several great artists. Local artists include Venturino Venturi, native of Loro Ciuffenna, who also has painted a work inspired by the Iris.